Showing posts with label downtowns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label downtowns. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Walking the SuperLoop

"In many of the largest cities in the most-populous metropolitan areas, downtown populations grew at double-digit rates from 2000 to 2010.

Chicago had the largest numerical increase -- 48,000 -- in its downtown, according to fresh Census Bureau data. The Census defines downtown as an area within 2 miles of city hall.

Haya El Nasser, "Downtowns enjoying robust population growth," USA Today," September 28, 2012.

This growth occurred while Chicago lost 200,000 jobs in the past decade with an up-tick of 8,800 jobs between 2010 and 2011. These factoids caught my eye because I recently spent time walking the SuperLoop surrounding downtown and couldn't help but sense it's a very different place. I've been walking this urban space for over forty years and have watched the demise of public housing, skid rows, old train stations, SROs, workingmen's cafeteria's, factories and warehouses, and old ethnic neighborhoods. This turf was once called the "transition zone" by Ernest Burgess of the Chicago School. Now, its more like the playground for Richard Florida's creative class. In the 1960s Daley the First tore down neighborhoods and built the University of Illinois at Chicago; in the 1970s, the Chicago 21 Committee produced the Chicago 21 plan, which called for rebuilding the SuperLoop, starting with Dearborn Park. Chicago River dreams portend more change, and the same kind of change. And on and on. Hardly natural market forces at work alone.

But, I have to admit, I still like the walks and find much of the old Chicago within my street-level view. It's in the bones, at least for now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Urban Builder?

"In the years to come, Chicago's many visitors will principally celebrate Richard M. Daley's accomplishments as an urban builder."

Larry Bennett,The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism

This book cries out for some old-fashioned data -- private investment downtown, public investments in infrastructure and special projects. Data should be over time, perhaps in five-year increments. My sense is the claim about Daley as "urban builder" is probably right, but simply listing projects as evidence doesn't tell the story. Under Harold Washington, the city invested in the Midway El, O'Hare expansion, White Sox Park, and lights at Wrigley Field. There was certainly planning work done on Navy Pier, the "S" Bend, and there no doubt was a McCormick Place expansion underway. What mayor isn't an urban builder -- and the longer you're in office the longer the list.

Oddly, the book says nothing about the failed 1992 World's Fair -- a civic misstep often laid at Washington's doorstep -- the missed mega project. I wonder why

Monday, May 24, 2010

TIF Equity

"On the other end of the spectrum are the three wards that encompass downtown Chicago. They shared roughly $626 million of that $1.5 billion, or 43 percent."

Mick Dumke and Ben Joravsky,"The Shadow Budget: Who Wins in Daley's TIF Game," Chicago Reader, May 20, 2010

We're talking about tax increment financing (TIFs)that freezes taxes in so-called blighted districts for up to 24 years and allocates a portion of tax growth, if it occurs, into a kitty for local development and infrastructure.

"Between 2004 and 2008 it spent about $1.5 billion in property tax dollars on communities Mayor Daley and his aides designated as needing a shot in the arm."

No surprise that TIF dollars concentrated downtown--that's been true for almost every economic development incentive -- like Urban Development Action Grants. Is it blighted? Well. But there is also quite a concentration as well within the broader central area undergoing revitalization.

What's startling, or maybe not, is that large portions of the south side -- predominantly African American neighborhoods -- are left out. It's a good question as to whether TIFs spur growth or reward growth. If the latter, then poor, disinvested communities don't have much hope of generating much TIF interest, and thus keep on falling behind.

There's nothing like some light of day on public and private expenditures to generate questions and maybe even understanding. It took a Freedom of Information Act request to get this TIF data. Now, the public can more forcefully ask questions about equitable development and balanced growth.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Urban Huckstering

"This wasn't Jesus Christ throwing the money men out of the temple;this was an academic.He was a fucking college professor,and you're hoping to resurrect Canton, Ohio? Yeah, good luck with that."

Rodgers Frantz, former tour manager for Richard Florida, quoted in: Alec MacGillis,"The Ruse of the Creative Class," American Prospect, January February 2010.

A lot of people have been waiting to take Richard Florida down. He made the mistake of making a lot of money giving false hope to places; now,in a turn of mind, he is giving false "no hope" to some of the same places. He's apparently smart enough to know that marketing the creative class during the Great Recession has more than a false ring -- even though "innovation" and "skills" are widely seen as long-term panaceas.

We have a long line of urban hucksters or rock stars. The article mentions Michael Porter but the list is longer and certainly includes some of the regionalists, eds and meds advocates, and even, I hesitate to say, some of the green folks. To be a good huckster requires that you marshal and focus on a bit of truth and market the hell out of it: it's just not the whole, complex truth. This happens all the time with the "silver bullet" model projects of social entrepreneurs. Cities are littered with their failures.

Hawking the creative class is another way of saying: invest in downtown development, focus on urban amenities, cater to creative and producer services,renovate the warehouses, etc. How long has that advice been in circulation? And by the way, add a new stadium, convention center, and go for the Olympics (or something smaller)if you are bold enough.

The article doesn't ponder why we are so susceptible to urban hucksters. Why are we so ready to buy the Brooklyn Bridge? Is it that we like simple, fashion cycle ideas? Is it that we really don't know what to do? Is it that doing the things that really matter is too hard and involves the expenditure of too much political capital?

Finally, Florida is missing an interesting trend. Artists, artist types, and those liking gritty arty tone live on the cheap and are great entrepreneurs and risk takers. That's why, back in the 1970s, they were feared or welcomed as the first wave of urban pioneers. Cities in tough times are attractive to this bunch -- and to social justice advocates as well. Maybe we need a new version of urban huckstering that calls for squatting, free land, no rules etc. Oops, we tried that already: Enterprise Zones.